Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

I can safely say I just got home from one of the most bizarre electoral hustings I’ve ever been to.

Tonight’s debate, hosted by Horsney Parish Church and moderated by Father Bruce Batstone, invited candidates from the five largest parties running in my constituency, Hornsey and Wood Green:

  • Suhail Rahuja from the Conservative Party
  • Gordon Peters from the Green Party
  • Catherine West from the Labour Party
  • Lynne Featherstone from the Liberal Democrats (incumbent)
  • Clive Morrison from UK Independence Party


The other three candidates were invited to submit questions for the debate.

That’s not what happened though.

Continue reading Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

How to lose an election

Alberta’s election continues to be far more entertaining than the one here in the UK.

Amid his party’s plummeting polling numbers, Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice needed to re-connect with voters and rebuild trust for his party during the leaders debate last night.

Instead, he told the only woman on stage that “I know the math is difficult…” in a discussion around tax increases. Very soon after #MathIsHard started trending in the province and NDP leader Rachel Notley was able to remind viewers that this is the leader who doesn’t want Albertans to “worry their pretty little heads.”

There’s an adage that governments typically lose elections, rather than opposition parties win them. In this case, I think Prenctice just lost it and Notley has a truly unexpected chance to win it.

For more on the debate, read Don Braid’s analysis in the Calgary Herald.

10 reasons the Saguenay ruling establishes Canada as a secular country

It’s been only 5 days since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that the prayers said by the City of Saguenay discriminated against atheists, and already cities across Canada are reviewing their own practices. But I suspect (although caveated with the standard, I am not a lawyer) this ruling will have wide reaching consequences as there are very few Supreme Court precedents on cases of religious freedom in Canada.

Reading the ruling, I think secularists should feel confident. Here’s my interpretation of my 10 favourite parts of the ruling (in the order they appear).

Continue reading 10 reasons the Saguenay ruling establishes Canada as a secular country

On PZ Myers and Atheist Ireland – what she said

I can’t add much to this statement from Secular Woman on the recent “public dissociation” controversy. I will admit that this blog was briefly listed as one of the Secular Policy Institute’s affiliates though (because they literally asked everyone they could google). But after they issued their bizarre statement about “shock bloggers” I dissociated myself (though not publicly, till now I guess).

Lunney unleashed

Citing media “intolerance and bigotry”, anti-science Canadian MP James Lunney has quit the government caucus to sit as an independent. Among Lunney’s claim to the crown as Canada’s least scientifically literate MP are:

  • He doesn’t believe in evolution
  • He’s a chiropractor
  • He’s claimed there’s a link between vaccines and autism
  • He doesn’t believe the climate is changing

In his surreal press release (dated March 31, not April 1), he states that he will address his religious beliefs in Parliament at his next opportunity, which sounds like it will be a hoot. Lunney claims that Christians are being persecuted in Canada, a claim that is thoroughly debunked by the excellent Ottawa Citizen editorial:

Add MP James Lunney to the list of people who somehow have come to believe they’re being persecuted — that indeed, their fundamental human rights are under threat — when people disagree with them on Twitter.

Lunney is standing down before the election in October so we’ll only have a few more of his public gems of wisdom.

Good riddance.

Got DNA evidence of Bigfoot? Don’t peer review, write a book!

Science Editor Jonathan Leake skewered Bryan Sykes in The Sunday Times today [paywalled] over bigfoot claims. Sykes is publishing a new book in which he’ll present the DNA evidence he claims to have for the existence of yetis and bigfoot. This claim comes despite the lack of any good photographic evidence in the era of cameras in everyone’s pockets.

Sykes previously hosted The Bigfoot Files on the UK’s Channel 4. Leake has some sharp comments on Sykes’ credibility:

Bryan Sykes, who describes himself as a ‘professor of human genetics at Oxford’…

Sykes has not published any research on these creatures…

Sykes is a fellow of Wolfson but he admitted [his Institute of Human Genetics at Wolfson College, Oxford] was mythical. “The journal required some sort of additional address in the college and, hey presto, I became an institute!”

Sykes’s book says he has been professor of human genetics at Oxford since 1997, but university officials said he had not held that post for a decade or so.

My favourite piece is the final comment from another scientist:

Tom Gilbert, professor of geogenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said: “Bryan’s data highlights that a lot of people strongly believe they have evidence for them (yetis etc), but none of it holds up under scrutiny.”

Edmonton Journal grants space to debunked anti-WiFi conspiracies

Some parents in Alberta are trying to get schools to ban wi-fi on baseless fears and scare-mongering. The kicker: these same parents are fine with wifi in their house. 

It’s not so much the parents who bother me in this story as the Canadian Teachers Federation, the local school councils, and particularlu the Edmonton Journal who all give far greater space to these conspiracy theories than to sound science and expertise.

Continue reading Edmonton Journal grants space to debunked anti-WiFi conspiracies

It’s all been done

The current UK election cycle seems like much of the past 20 years of Canadian politics is just being played over again. In no particular order, here’s the similarities I can already see, please add your own in the comments.

The rise of regional separtist parties

The Bloc Quebecois swept most of the seats in Quebec for most of the 1990s and 2000s and now the Scottish National Party are set to do the same in Scotland. In both cases, the separatists block the easiest path to a majority government for at least one party (Liberals in Canada, Labour in the UK) and mean minorities are more likely.

National debates about how to structure a TV debate

In both countries, the TV debates are decided by a cabal of broadcasters who dictate based on arbitrary rules what format the national TV debates should be. In Canada, the rule is something like “every party who has an MP gets to be in the debates” except for the Bloc who only get to be in the French debate since they don’t run in English Canada. In the UK, it’s leaning towards a giant debate free-for-all with every regional party taking part in the nationwide debate, potentially followed by a one-one-one between the two largest parties. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron is still threatening to boycott all the debates unless he gets his way.

I’m fine with replacing Cameron with an empty seat but I would suggest limiting regional parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru to their regional affiliates (BBC Scotland and Wales respectively).

Fear mongering over coalitions with separatists

In Canada after the 2008 election, the second-place Liberals agreed to replace the Conservative minority government with a coalition with the third-place NDP. They needed the votes from the Bloc to secure a majority though, which the media screamed bloody murder over. Now Labour is facing a potential minority government and is being called on to categorically reject any power-sharing deals with the SNP. Of course, the media is happy to ignore in both cases that the separatists would never become government ministers but would merely agree to vote in favour of confidence matters.

UKIP is the British Reform Party

Want smaller taxes, fewer immigrants and vague notions of greater democracy, but if elected would run from scandal to scandal? See what the Reform Party of the mid-1990s became in the Harper Conservatives to catch a glimpse at what could happen if Cameron’s Conservatives tank and spend a decade in the political wilderness until being forced to merge with UKIP.

E-petitions come to Canada

Congrats to Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart on getting enough support to make his dream of e-peitions in Parliament a reality. After the next election, Canadians will be able to submit petitions online, forcing a response to every petition over 500 signatures.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably a small change, but it’s one that makes democracy easier, not harder. In an age of restrictive voting ID laws and robocall fraud, it’s good to see a positive tool for democratic engagement win support.

Currently, petitions in Canada have to be signed on paper and the originals sent to an MP to sponsor it.

Support an amended Bill C-264 in Canada

In February, Bill C-624 an Act to Amend the National Anthem Act (gender) received second reading in Canada’s House of Commons. This bill, put forward by Liberal MP for Ottawa—Vanier Mauril Bélanger, would replace the words “thy sons” with “of us” in Canada’s national anthem.

This would correct the gender imbalance in the anthem but is unlikely to pass. The idea was included in Prime Minister Harper’s 2010 throne speech but was abandoned before the speech was over. Even if Bélanger can muster the votes to get the bill through the House of Commons, it’s unlikely that it will be given further time for debate in the House before the election in October.

Even though the bill seems doomed, perhaps someone could propose an amendment to the bill to change a couple more words. Notably the penultimate line, “God keep our land” could be reverted to the religiously-neutral 1908 version of O Canada. Something I suggested in 2010. It would at least be a sign that politicians were willing to consider the importance of secularism and non-religious voters (who make up a quarter to a third of Canadians).